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Monday, September 29, 2008

Inside 'GameDay'

I spent quite a bit of time with the cast and crew of ESPN's "College GameDay" over the weekend. It was definitely an interesting experience seeing all that goes into getting the show on the air. In case you didn't get a chance to check it out in Sunday's Telegraph, you can find my story on the experience here.

I'd also recommend checking out our photo gallery from "GameDay" and Paul Dehner's blog post of his favorite signs from the event.

(NOTE: For some reason the link to the photo gallery is not working. Here is the URL:

There were some interesting tidbits that didn't make it into the final story, however, so I figured I'd post them here. If you love or hate ESPN, I think this gives you a bit better understanding of what some of the big boys at the network think about their jobs.

From "GameDay's" senior coordinating producer Michael Fountain:

On when Lee Corso selects which mascot head he'll wear: "He might know as soon as we pick the game Saturday night, he might know who he's going with. There's no set day when he calls us and let's us know, but I got to tell you, he takes that seriously. He will call and then ask you again and then call you again and make sure you got it. He's been here 15 minutes and he's looking for the mascot head."

On what "GameDay" means for the schools it covers: "It goes to the credibility we've built up through the years, how we approach things. The guys are so well versed in the game. I think that all plays a role. I think the coaches know the popularity of ‘GameDay.' It helps local recruiting when we show up at a campus. If you look into their media guides the next year, ‘GameDay' will be right there in the first couple of pages, and it sends a message to recruits that we're a big-time program."

On the preparation that goes into the show: "The popularity of the show has gone through the roof. It's been record ratings the last few years. Obviously we're doing something right. People at home are watching. The crowds get bigger. The guys' popularity is growing. The guys are just over the top in terms of how popular they are with the fans and with good reason. They really take this seriously. They put in a lot of work. People think they just show up at the set on Saturday morning and sit down and just ad lib for two hours. That's the furthest thing from the truth. They put in a heck of a lot of preparation time."

On what goes into selecting a location for the broadcast: "'GameDay' has become almost a year-round thing for us. We meet constantly. Last year we were meeting in February for this year. We look at the upcoming schedule, we identify four or five schools every week that look like possibles. During the summertime we sort of explore that list. If we've been to that school and have a good location, there's no need to do a site survey. If it's a new school, somewhere like Georgia, we'll try to do site surveys and get them out of the way early before the season starts, lock in a location. Once the season starts it's such a scramble from week to week. A lot of people don't understand, we generally don't know where we're going until Saturday night or Sunday morning. It's 80-some people, it's five rigs, it's the bus, it's travel, it's hotels, it's a big scramble."

On how "GameDay" is trying to change its look: "I think schools for so long thought we had to have the stadium in the backdrop, and we've sort of been moving away from that. We want to make sure everybody understands we don't need the stadium. We're trying to get more of a campus feel, especially for a later kickoff."

From analyst Lee Corso:

On his preparation: "I read everything I can find. I read all the newspapers. I call some of the sports information guys. I don't ever call coaches. The reason I don't call coaches is if you call Mark Richt and you don't call Nick Saban, everybody says you like Mark Richt. I haven't called a coach in 15 years. If you call one, you've got to call them all. I don't go to walkthroughs. Haven't been to a walkthrough in 18 years."

On people's reaction to his on-air comments: "I don't ever say anything that I don't believe in 100 percent. Never. If you notice, when they ask me my opinion, I tell them the reason why, given an opinion and tell them why. People don't really get upset if you tell them why you say something. They get upset if you say something and get the hell out of there."

From analyst Kirk Herbstreit:

On dealing with celebrity: "I've been doing this now for 13 years and you don't get caught up in it. You don't allow yourself to be that person that they're talking to. It's like you play a character almost – the person that they love or they hate or whatever they feel. If you buy in to who they try to elevate you to be, then I think you put yourself in a position that you're living in a life that, to me, is not realistic. I've always been a down-to-earth person, but I can see how people buy into that celebrity status. I think it's a mistake."

On watching football with the cast and crew after the show: "That's the best part of my job is to get on the bus and watch the games. You do so much work throughout the week to get ready for the show and then you do the show and there's people all around the set and you want to thank them for coming, it's hot, you've definitely got to go say hello to the fans. Then you get on the bus and it's air conditioned, there's food on the bus, and there's five TVs with every game you need to see. It's like being at a sports bar and you're getting paid for it."

On the Les Miles incident: "I don't look to break stories, but coaches call me. So when they call me, now I have information. So my whole point with all that is, I have so much respect for coaches and they have such an open-door policy with me, they tell me things that they probably don't tell a whole lot of people. There's a trust factor there, and I look at that as something that's very important to me, and I don't want to be caught in a situation where coaches feel like I don't have their best interests in mind. Those circumstances, you can only imagine what went on behind the scenes there. I didn't stir anything up. I didn't have an erroneous source. I got a phone call from a coach who was actually going to be on that staff. So it wasn't like I was trying to dig something up. But I'll definitely think twice again before I get involved in any sort of story breaking."

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